Attention: Media and Education correspondents

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news release

Attention: Media and Education correspondents PR 4470

Embargoed until 00.01am 18 May, 2001


The BBC and the Open University today unveiled the future direction of their partnership with plans for a higher profile for quality Open University programmes on BBC channels.

The new agreement is designed to bring high quality programmes made for the Open University to a wider general audience, and also aims to combine the power of broadcasting with the educational potential of new technologies to encourage greater participation in lifelong learning.

BBC Director General Greg Dyke will be meeting with OU Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Diana Laurillard at the university’s Milton Keynes headquarters later today to approve the key points of the revised partnership.

The new arrangements reaffirm the future of BBC/OU television broadcasts, including nearly doubling the peak-time broadcast slots offered on BBC TWO for OU programmes aimed at general viewers. Over the next three years the BBC will schedule Open University programmes which are aimed at the general viewer at more popular viewing times, replacing some OU weekend early morning slots. Subject to the BBC receiving Government approval for the launch of new digital channels, it is also planned to provide OU programmes to the new arts and culture channel, BBC FOUR. The university will also take up an option to invest in major BBC factual projects, including for BBC ONE.

Under the plan, the BBC will continue to broadcast OU programmes in an updated and streamlined version of the overnight Learning Zone. The OU has agreed to use the Learning Zone to deliver its more course-related programmes for the next five years. These broadcasts will be used in conjunction with the university’s development of new media for delivering courses. The BBC will also continue to produce broadcast related content for, the Open University’s website which links its TV programmes with new courses.


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Professor Laurillard said the wide range of technologies now available allowed the OU to optimise the use of different media for learning for its range of audiences, from course students to lifelong learners.

“Most of our 185,000 students are online, and many of our courses are already making use of the more interactive learning experience offered by CDs, DVDs and the Internet. We continue to use audio-visual material within these other media, but we recognise that broadcast TV is a very effective medium to inspire learning and we want to use it to best effect. The increase in the quality of our broadcast hours will enable us to do that,” Professor Laurillard said.

Series such as Rough Science, Romans in Britain, and In Pursuit of Pleasure have proved successful in prime time evening slots, attracting audiences of up to 3 million per programme, and have later been sold to overseas networks.

BBC Factual and Learning is keen to link such programming in its planned learning journeys, which lead people from TV broadcasts into structured and sometimes accredited online learning.

The BBC’s Joint Director of Factual and Learning, Michael Stevenson, welcomed the fresh impetus behind the partnership: “The partnership between the OU and the BBC has been one of the outstanding public sector success stories of the last 30 years”, he said. “Together, as two of the most trusted educational brands, working across TV and new media, we can now attract into Higher Education a new generation of learners in the UK and overseas”.

The two organisations recently pioneered an early form of learning journey with Rough Science. The series, which tested the skills and initiative of a group of scientists placed on a remote Mediterranean island, used an interactive web site and accompanying booklet to challenge viewers to tackle the same tasks before the broadcasts. The OU has introduced a new style of short science courses to allow people to develop their interests further. These innovative courses are designed to lead into the university’s degree-level courses.

The revised agreement also paves the way for other universities to be included in learning journey partnerships, with the OU supplying its expertise in open and supported distance learning.

Specific operational details of the revised agreement will be finalised in negotiations over the next few months. This includes the potential creation of a new partnership production facility which will enable the BBC to combine its production work for the OU with production work for other education partners. BBC staff in Milton Keynes were briefed on the proposed changes yesterday.

Media contacts:

Gary Spink, Open University Media Relations, 01908 653343

BBC Press Office, 020 8576 1865

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